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The best beers for your weekend barbecue

Live Oak was one of the first U.S. breweries to attempt the grodziskie style, in 2014, inspired by the Oklahoma-based Krebs Brewing Company, which revived the style with their Signature Grätzer in 2011
Live Oak was one of the first U.S. breweries to attempt the grodziskie style, in 2014, inspired by the Oklahoma-based Krebs Brewing Company, which revived the style with their Signature Grätzer in 2011

Summary

Rauschbier and other smoky old-world styles are catching fire stateside. These are the beers to try.

When Common Haus Hall, a Bavarian-style beer hall, opened in Jeffersonville, Ind., in late March of this year, beer director Roger Baylor wanted to offer a unique house specialty. The menu was already loaded with well-known German beer styles—pilsners, hefeweizens and doppelbocks from big-timers like Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr—so he commissioned Jerry Gnagy of local brewery Against the Grain to make a smoked lager reminiscent of the rauchbiers from Bamberg, Germany.

“Jerry suggested we call it Career Suicide," joked Mr. Baylor. American beer drinkers, after all, lately favor juicy IPAs and sugary stouts. But Mr. Gnagy’s and Mr. Baylor’s take on the esoteric style, Next Train to Bamberg, has been well received.

“You have to make the effort to educate," said Mr. Baylor. It’s worth knowing that Next Train to Bamberg uses beechwood-smoked malt from Sugar Creek Malt Co., a family-run malting house in Lebanon, Ind., that offers more than 30 smoked-malt options, each of which imparts different aromas, flavors and intensity.

If Bamberg is still the epicenter of rauchbier (literally “smoked beer"), many old-world brewing centers have their own examples; in the preindustrial days, one of the few ways to kiln malt was over an open fire. Poland, for instance, has the spritzy grodziskie. “Smoke is primordial, it’s in our DNA," said Chip McElroy, founder of Live Oak Brewing in Austin, Tex. “It’s in every culture of the world. Somewhere deep down we have developed an instinctual taste for it."

Live Oak was one of the first U.S. breweries to attempt the grodziskie style, in 2014, inspired by the Oklahoma-based Krebs Brewing Company, which revived the style with their Signature Grätzer in 2011. “I used to say, ‘We are going to keep making smoked beers until people start drinking them!’" said Mr. McElroy.

Today, Live Oak offers a range of smoked beers, from Weisser Rauch (“White Smoke," a smoked hefeweizen) and Schwarzer Rauch (“Black Smoke," a smoked black lager) to a smoky Oktoberfest. The brewery bills its Hell Bock, a higher-ABV smoked lager, as exclusively for “the seasoned smoked beer drinker."

But that’s the extreme end of the smoked-beer spectrum. Inspiration comes from all corners, smoked beer in many flavor profiles. “One of our first beers that pushed us outside our fruit-forward portfolio was a smoky pale ale inspired by a mezcal paloma," said LeAnn Darland, co-founder of Talea Beer Co. in Brooklyn, referring to the popular Mexican cocktail. Following on their Paloma Pale Ale, Talea has also released Fireside Smoked Vienna Lager, a sweet and smoky amber beer that will appeal to fans of bacon or barbecue. As Tara Hankinson, Talea’s other co-founder, explained, “Smoked malts add another tool for brewers and breweries to create variety, aromatic texture, and tap into the savory, culinary side of beer."

1. Live Oak Grodziskie (3% ABV)

Made with oak-smoked wheat and the original yeast strain from Poland, hopped like a pilsner, packed with flavor and body despite the low ABV.

2. Talea Fireside Smoked Vienna Lager (6% ABV)

This Czech amber lager uses beechwood-smoked malt. A palate of toffee and shortbread with just a wisp of smoke.

3. Against the Grain/Common Haus Hall Next Train to Bamberg (5.3%% ABV)

Sessionable sipper, ideal food pairing. Palate leans light and crisp, but with a smoky caramel body.

4. Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger (5.8% ABV)

A black lager, somewhat porter-like due to its chocolate malts (alongside beechwood-smoked malts). Fudgy with hints of espresso. The smoke balances the sweetness.

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